North Korean authorities have stepped up efforts to stop smuggling along the Sino-North Korean border recently, Daily NK has learned. 

A source in North Korea told the Daily NK on Sunday that a newly created organization called the “Emergency Anti-epidemic Inspection Team” was deployed to various places along the North Korea-China border in early September.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the inspection team was organized to stop COVID-19 from crossing over the border and that its main objective is to clamp down on smuggling.

The inspection team appears to have been organized after the Ministry of Social Security warned people in September to stop “engaging in actions that disrupt” the country’s efforts to close the border. Notably, the ministry’s notice said that anyone who crossed into a buffer zone along the border would be fired upon. 

The source told Daily NK that the inspection team is generally operating in groups of four. They are cracking down on all transactions and smuggling taking place outside of those conducted by official trade organizations. 

The teams have reportedly been collecting information on smuggling in the regions they have been sent and, recently, have begun arresting smugglers and their accomplices. 

The source told Daily NK that eight members of the country’s border patrol (the 31st Brigade of the Border Security Command stationed in Sinuiju) were arrested on Sept. 15.

The eight were mostly officers and are being accused of taking bribes from local civilians to turn a blind eye to smuggling activities. 

The source said there are rumors that the accused face punishments more serious than just being suspended from duty or being sent to forced labor camps. 

“Despite being officers, it appears that their punishment won’t stop at just being stripped of their military status,” the source told Daily NK. What this suggests is that anyone involved in smuggling, even just once, faces severe punishment.

“The inspection team is arresting everyone, even soldiers and members of the Ministry of State Security,” the source said, adding that the atmosphere in the border region is “tense” because of the arrests. 

The source speculated that the authorities will continue to strengthen their crackdowns in the border region to stop smuggling activities up until Party Foundation Day on Oct. 10.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.